Dracula Diaries, week1.2

Dear Dracula Backers,

Our first week of rehearsals ended on a real high, with a run of the second act of the play. All of our cast are working really hard in the blistering heat, and I love them all for it.

Its a joy to see the progress from day to day. We will have something really special to put on stage in August.

We have diaries from a different selection of the cast for you in this update, with one even written in character!

Enjoy, regards,

Stephen

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Jennifer Lee May (Playing Nurse Grice/Nisbett)

Wow what a first week.

We have just finished our first run of the second act and I have to say that my brain is feeling rather full but I am relishing the challenges these parts bring and the opportunity to get to grips with their inner psyche – no matter how disturbing!! – these are real people. That’s what I am enjoying with Liz Lochead’s writing so much – even if a character doesn’t say a lot you know exactly what’s going on and their intentions are clear. I have 5 brilliant and distinct characters, all of which have so many layers to them – which is making it both fun and a little bit daunting.

It’s been brilliant that we have had the opportunity this week to delve into the script in depth though I think we’re all itching to get on our feet and live and breath these people. I have so much more exploring to do and I have to stop myself getting too impatient and frustrated that what is in my head doesn’t yet always translate. This will be helped by being off book for Monday — so weekend plans sorted – learning lines 🙂 Xx

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Michael Brady playing Van Helsing

At the moment I am enjoying working on Van Helsing’s biography: how does he know Seward; does he enjoy his job at the university; why does he offer his support to Seward; how does he know Dracula?

On Wednesday Stephen and I discussed in detail the complexities of Van Helsing and I am now looking forward to exploring these in rehearsals and in my own private study of the part.

I have been most interested in the way I am changing the tone and inflexion of how I am saying some lines as it is giving me the fun of realising I don’t know the lines as well as I thought I did.

I’m ok with this as it’s getting me to really think about Van Helsing’s reaction to events in the play and others’ reactions to those events. I’m not sure Van Helsing is as altruistic as I first thought he was.

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Conor Craig Stephens – Playing Dracula

For me, this week has been about finding ‘The key’ as I call it. It’s that one word the director says that hits your creative bone just in the right place sending butterflies whizzing round your stomach in excitement of what’s to come: the key for me was ‘Mimic’. Now, I know what your thinking ‘um excuse me, acting is about living the part darling, not just MIMICKING IT!’ but that’s exactly the point – whereas ordinarily our job is to iron out any ‘mimicking’ tendencies, the part of Dracula actually requires the opposite. Dracula (shock horror) isn’t actually human, so his character is overcome with the need to show that he’s human when he first meets Jonathan to put him at ease, and earn his trust until he can get what he wants. So I’ve been getting my actor’s brain around playing a character who is only ‘presenting’ human-like behaviour half of the time that we see him. Internalising the mimicking of human behaviour not only gave me the pace of his thoughts, but also his struggle to fit in and to survive in a foreign environment – it’s been a very long time since he’s been in the presence of humans ‘as a human’ (not a predator) and it is this clever disguise that allows him to open up his hunting ground over international waters where there is fresh blood for him to explore…
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Jonathan (Played by Nathanael Johnson)

Darkness and silence. I’ve had quite enough of darkness and silence. And tombs. And now I stand next to a tomb, in silent darkness, waiting for a creature I never thought could be real. Any other man would question his sanity, but I have seen with my own eyes, and felt…well, I have overwhelming evidence these creatures exist.

The musty odour of the Count’s castle is still present on my skin, though it’s probably only I who can smell it. I don’t think I shall ever be rid of that smell. In the daylight I could see the dust in the air, floating slowly, hanging on every doorknob and relic in his corridors. I walked the floors of that castle pondering why, with such a lavish home a man would stay in bed all day long. I suppose my question is now answered.

Van Helsing breaks the silence at long last, looking in his medical bag (I say medical, perhaps medieval would be more suitable). And Arthur sits, thinking us both mad, but not knowing…

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Simon Mitelman (playing Renfield)

So, after the first week of rehearsals and just about the start the second – what have I learned…?

Firstly – LEARN THE WORDS! You’d think training hard for 2 years would have taught me that wouldn’t you. But I decided that I’d let the moves help me with the words. WRONG!!! Should have learnt the lines first as I’m finding it extremely frustrating having a script in my hand as my character is so jumpy/edgy/mad and should be running around his cell like a wild thing. At the moment he’s galumphing around it like an unfit 42 year old – I wonder why.
However, the lines are now in place so this week should see an improvement…I’ll let you know how that goes.

Secondly (pretentious actor alert!) – I realised that I’d approached the part of Renfield (one of Dracula’s earlier ‘victims’ and now confined to a lunatic asylum) determined not to do ‘mad acting’. This meant that I underplayed the role in the first 2 read-throughs and during the beginning of rehearsals. Renfield has a lot to do in the first half of the play especially and the words were not feeling right as they came out of my mouth but I wasn’t sure why.
The whole pace seemed to drag and I had the feeling it was something to do with my performance.
I had a long, in-depth discussion with the Director and decided that perhaps I’d got it wrong and should try being a bit more ‘mad’ with greater pacing and increased changes of emotion. It worked! We did a run of Act 1 and the piece came to life .
I now know that I need to go further with this and experiment more with changes in vocal technique and emotional intensity but with 3 weeks to go I now feel really positive about where I can take myself and the character.

This is only supposed to be short – there’s SO much more I could write about. Next time…

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